The Armstrong cloud
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Cycling will not forget him. But it will take a long time for sporting achievements to look clean
Lance Armstrong was quick to amend his Twitter profile upon being stripped of his seven Tour de France titles. But it will be a little difficult to heed the judgment of Pat McQuaid, president of the International Cycling Union, that "he deserves to be forgotten in cycling." Why cycling, other Olympic sports too will struggle with the fallout of this story of Armstrong's active connivance in a complex doping programme that, yet more incriminating, tainted his teammates.
No matter how peripheral cycling may have been to your interests, Armstrong's heroism had made itself known far outside his discipline — his comeback from a tough cancer treatment to consecutive defences of the Tour de France, among the most gruelling and demanding of athletic efforts, raised the profile of his sport. The self-belief of his sport is now shrivelling, to the extent that the Tour de France's race director feels that the runners-up in the Armstrong years, 1999-2005, not be elevated on account of the widespread use then of illegal means to enhance performance.
In fact, the memory of Armstrong's deceit will, depressingly, interrogate the next heroic performance anywhere in the world by an athlete, whether on track, on the field or in the pool. That interrogation is already rampant, of course. When Ye Shiwen, the Chinese 16-year-old, swam the final 50m of the women's individual medley at the London Olympics faster than the winner in the men's final, Ryan Lochte, questions freely flowed about the cleanliness of her achievement. Those questions naturally invited charges of racism, but the greats were already facing them too. Upon winning the 200m gold at London, at the immediate post-race press conference, Usain Bolt too was asked whether he and his Jamaican mates were "drug-free". The reply: "Without a doubt."